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Sermons on National Subjects, 38 - THE LIGHT

By Charles Kingsley


      But all things that are reproved are made manifest by the light: for whatsoever doth make manifest is light. Wherefore He saith, Awake thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light.--EPHESIANS v. 13, 14.

      St. Paul has been telling the Ephesians who they are; that they are God's dear children. To whom they belong; to Christ who has given Himself for them. What they ought to do; to follow God's likeness, and live in love. That they are light in the Lord; and are to walk as children of the light; and have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them. As much as to say: Do not believe those who tell you that there is no harm in young people going wrong together before marriage, provided they intend to marry after all. Do not believe those who tell you that there is no harm in filthy words, provided you do not do filthy things; and no harm in swearing, provided you do not mean the curses which you speak. Do not believe those who tell you there is no harm in poaching another man's game, provided you do not steal his poultry, or anything except his game. Do not believe those who tell you that there is no harm in being covetous, provided you do not actually cheat your neighbours; and that the sin lies, not in being covetous at all, but in being more covetous than the law will let you be.

      Do not believe those who say to you that you may keep dark thoughts, spite, suspicion, envy, cunning, covetousness in your hearts day after day, year after year, provided you do not openly act on them so as to do your neighbours any great and notorious injury.

      Plenty of people will tell you so, and try to deceive you with vain words, and give you arguments, and texts of scripture perhaps, to prove that sin is not sin, and that the children of light may do the works of darkness. But do not believe them, says St. Paul. They are deceivers, and their words are vain. These are the very things which bring down God's wrath on His disobedient children. These are the bad ways which make young people, when they are married, despise, and distrust, and quarrel with each other, and live miserable lives together, as children of wrath, peevish, and wrathful, and discontented with each other, because they feel that God is angry with them, just as Adam in the garden, when he felt that he had sinned, and that God was wroth with him, laid the blame on his wife, and accused her, whom he ought to have loved, and protected, and excused.

      These are the bad ways which make people ashamed when they meet a good and a respectable person, make them afraid of being overheard, afraid of being found out, fond of haunting low and out-of-the-way places where they will not be seen; fond of prowling and lurching out at night after their own sinful pleasures, because the darkness hides them from their neighbours, and seems to hide them from themselves, though it cannot hide them from God. These are the sins which make men silent, cunning, dark, sour, double-tongued, afraid to look anyone full in the face, unwilling to make friends, afraid of opening their minds to anyone, because they have something on their minds which they dare not tell their neighbours, which they dare not even tell themselves, but think about as little as they can help. Do you not know what I mean? Do you not often see it in others? Have you never felt it in yourselves when you have done wrong, that dark feeling within which shows itself in dark looks? You talk of a "dark-looking man," or a "dark sort of person;" and you mean, do you not, a man whom you cannot make out, who does not wish you to make him out; who keeps his thoughts and his feelings to himself, and is never frank or free, except with bad companions, when the world cannot see him; who goes about hanging down his head, and looking out of the corners of his eyes, as if he were afraid of the very sunshine--afraid of the light. We know that such a man has something dark on his mind. We call him a "dark sort of man." And we are right. We say of him what St. Paul says of him in this very epistle, when he says, that sin is darkness, and sinful works the deeds of darkness; and that goodness, and righteousness, and truth, are light, the very light of God and the Spirit of God. Our reason, our common sense, which is given us by God's Spirit, the Spirit of light, makes us use the right words, the same words as St. Paul does, and call sin darkness.

      But rather reprove these dark works, says St Paul; that is, look at them, and see that they are utterly worthless and damnable. And how? "All things that are reproved," he says, "are made manifest by the light. For whatsoever makes manifest is light." Whatsoever makes manifest, that is, makes plain and clear. Whatsoever makes you see anything or person in heaven or earth as it really is; whatsoever makes you understand more about anything; whatsoever shows you more what you are, where you are, what you ought to do; whatsoever teaches you any single hint about your duty to God, or man, or the dumb beasts which you tend, or the soil which you till, or the business and line of life which you ought to follow; whatsoever shows you the right and the wrong in any matter, the truth and the falsehood in any matter, the prudent course and the imprudent course in any matter; in a word, whatsoever makes your mind more clear about any single thing in heaven or earth, is light. For, mind, St. Paul does not say, whatsoever is light makes things plain; but whatsoever makes things plain is light. That is saying a great deal more, thank God; for if he had said, whatsoever is light makes things clear, we should have been puzzled to know what was light; we should have been tempted to settle for ourselves what was light. And, God knows, people in all ages, and people of all religions, Christians as well as heathens, have been tempted to say so, and to misread this text, till they said: "Whatsoever agrees with our doctrine is light, of course, but all other teaching is darkness, and comes from the devil;" and so they oftentimes blasphemed against God's Holy Spirit by calling good actions bad ones, just because they were done by people who did not agree with them, and fell into the same sin as the Pharisees of old, who said that the Lord cast out devils by Beelzebub the prince of the devils.

      But St. Paul says, whatsoever makes anything clearer to you, is light. There is the gospel, and there is the good news of salvation again, coming out, as it does all through St. Paul's epistles, at every turn, just where poor, sinful, dark man least expects it. For, what does St. Paul say in the very next verse? "Wherefore," he says, "arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light." "Christ shall give thee light!" Oh blessed news! CHRIST gives us the light, and therefore we need not be afraid of it, but trust it, and welcome it. And Christ GIVES us the light, therefore we have not to hunt and search after it; for He will give it us. Let us think over these two matters, and see whether there is not a gospel and good news in them for all wretched, ignorant, sinful, dark souls, just as much as for those who are learned and wise, or bright and full of peace.

      Christ gives us the light. This agrees with what St. John says, that "He is the light who lights every man who comes into the world." And it agrees also with what St. James says: "Be not deceived, my beloved brethren. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from God, the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, nor shadow of turning." And it agrees also with what the prophet says, that it is the Spirit of God which gives man understanding. And it agrees also with what the Lord Himself promised us when He was on earth, that He would send down on us the Spirit of God--the Spirit which proceeds alike from Him and from His Father, to guide us into all truth. Ay, my friends, if we really believe this, what a solemn and important thing education would seem to us! If we really believed that all light, all true understanding of any matter, came from the Lord Jesus Christ: and if we remember what the Lord Jesus' character was; how He came to do good to all; to teach not merely the rich and powerful, but the poor, the ignorant, the outcast, the sinful: should we not say to ourselves, then: "If knowledge comes from Christ, who never kept anything to Himself, how dare we keep knowledge to ourselves? If it comes from Him who gave Himself freely for all, surely He means that knowledge should be given freely to all. If He and His Father, and our Father, will that all should come to the knowledge of the truth, how dare we keep the truth from anyone?" So we should feel it the will of our heavenly Father, the solemn command of our blessed Saviour, that our children, and not only they, but every soul around us, young and old, should be educated in the best possible way, and in any way whatsoever, rather than in none at all. The education of the poor would be, in our eyes, the most sacred duty. A school would be, in our eyes, as necessary and almost as sacred a thing as a church. And to neglect sending our children to school, or to leave our servants or work- people in ignorance, would seem to us an awful sin against the Father of lights; a rebellion against the Lord Jesus, who lights every man who comes into the world, and against our Father in heaven, who willeth not that one of these little ones should perish.

      And this is made still more plain and certain by the next word in the text: "Christ shall GIVE thee light:" not sell thee light, or allow thee to find light after great struggles, and weary years of study: but, GIVE thee light. Give it thee of His free grace and generosity. We might have expected that, merely from remembering to whom the light belongs. The mere fact that light belongs to the Lord Jesus Christ, who is the express likeness of His Father, might have made us sure that He would give His light freely to the unthankful and to the evil, just as His Father makes His sun to shine alike on the evil and on the good. Therefore this text does not leave us to find out the good news for ourselves. It declares to us plainly that He will give it us, as freely as He gives us all things richly to enjoy.

      But, someone will say: You surely cannot mean that we shall have understanding without study?

      You cannot mean that we are to become wise without careful thought, or that we are to understand books without learning to read? Of course not, my friends. The text does not say: "Christ will give thee eyes; Christ will give thee sense:" but, "Christ will give thee light." . . . Do you not see the difference? Of what use would your eyes be without light? And of what use would light be if your eyes were shut, and you asleep? In darkness you cannot see. Your eyes are there, as good as ever; the world is there, as fair as ever: but you cannot see it, because there is no light. You can only feel it, by groping about with your hands, and laying hold of whatsoever happens to be nearest you. And do you think that though your bodily eyes cannot see, unless God puts His light in the sky, to shine on everything, and show it you, yet your minds and souls can see without any light from God? Not so, my friends. What the sun is to this earth, that the Lord Jesus Christ, the Word of God, is to the spirit-- that is, the reason and conscience--of every man who comes into the world. Now, the good news of holy baptism is, that the light is here; that God's Spirit is with us, to teach us the truth about everything, that we may see it in its true light, as it is, as God sees it; that the day-spring from on high has visited us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace; and that we are children of the light and of the day. But what if those who sit in darkness like the darkness; and wilfully shut their eyes tight that they may not see the day-spring from on high, and the light which God has sent into the world? Then the light will not profit them, but they will walk on still in darkness, not knowing whither they are going.

      But some may say, wicked men are very wise; although they rebel against God's Spirit, and do not even believe in God's Spirit, but say that man's mind can find out everything for itself, without God's help, yet they are very wise. Are they? The Bible tells us again and again that the wisdom of such men is folly; that God takes such wise men in their own craftiness. And the Bible speaks truth. If there is one thing of which I am more certain than another, my friends, it is that, just in proportion as a man is bad, just in proportion as he does not believe in a good Spirit of God who wills to teach him, and gives him light, he is a fool. If there is one thing more than another which such men's books have taught me, it is that they are in darkness, when they fancy they are in the brightest light; that they make the greatest mistakes when they intend to say the cleverest things; and when they least fancy it, fall into nonsense and absurdities, not merely on matters of religion, but on points which they profess to have studied, and in cases where, by their own showing, they ought to have known better. But our business is rather with ourselves. Our business, in this time of Lent, is to see whether we have been shutting our eyes; whether we have been walking in darkness, while God's light is all around us. And how shall we know that? Let St. John tell us: "He that saith he is in the light, and hateth his brother, is in darkness until now, and knoweth not whither he goeth, because darkness has blinded his eyes." Hating our brother. Covetousness, which is indeed hating our brother, for it teaches us to prefer our good to our neighbour's good, to fatten ourselves at our neighbour's expense, to get his work, his custom, his money, away from him to ourselves; bigotry, which makes men hate and despise those who differ from them in religion; spite and malice against those who have injured us; suspicions and dark distrust of our neighbours, and of mankind in general; selfishness, which sets us always standing on our own rights, makes us always ready to take offence, always ready to think that people mean to insult us or injure us, and makes us moody, dark, peevish, always thinking about ourselves, and our plans, or our own pleasures, shut up as it were within ourselves--all these sins, in proportion as anyone gives way to them, darken the eyes of a man's soul. They really and actually make him more stupid, less able to understand his neighbours' hearts and minds, less able to take a reasonable view of any matter or question whatsoever. You may not believe me. But so it is. I know it by experience to be true. I warn you that you will find it true one day; that all spite, passion, prejudice, suspicion, hard judgments, contempt, self-conceit, blind a man's reason, and heart, and soul, and make him stumble and fall into mistakes, even in worldly matters, just as surely as shutting our eyes makes us stumble in broad daylight. He who gives way to such passions is asleep, while he fancies himself broad awake. His life is a dream; and like a dreamer, he sees nothing really, only appearances, fancies, pictures of things in his own selfish brain. Therefore it is written: "Awake thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee life." You may say: Can I awaken myself? Perhaps not, unless someone calls you. And therefore Christ calls on you to awake. He says by my mouth: Awake, thou sleeper, and I will give thee light; awake, thou dreamer, who fanciest that the sinful works of darkness can give thee any real profit, any real pleasure; awake, thou sleep-walker, who art going about the world in a dream, groping thy way on from day to day and year to year, only kept from fall and ruin by God's guiding and preserving mercy. Open thine eyes, and let in the great eternal loving light, wherein God beholds everything which He has made, and behold it is very good. Open thine eyes, for it is day. The light is here if thou wilt but use it. "I will guide thee," saith the Lord, "and inform thee with mine eye, and teach thee in the way wherein thou shalt go." Only believe in the light. Believe that all knowledge comes from God. Expect and trust that He will give thee knowledge. Pray to Him boldly to give thee knowledge, because thou art sure that He wishes thee to have knowledge. He wishes thee to know thy duty. He wishes thee to see everything as He sees it. "If any man lack wisdom, let him ask of God, who giveth to all liberally and upbraideth not, and he shall receive it." And when thou hast prayed for knowledge, expect it to come; as it is written: When thou prayest for anything, believe that thou wilt receive it, and thou wilt receive it. If thou dost not believe that thou wilt have it, of course thou wilt not have it. And why? Because thou wilt pass by it without seeing it. It will be there ready for thee in thy daily walks; Wisdom will cry to thee at the head of every street; God will not deny Himself or break His promise: but thou wilt go past the place where wisdom is, and miss the lessons which God is strewing in thy path, because thou art not looking for them. Wisdom is here, my friends, and understanding is here, and the Spirit of God is here, if our eyes were but open to see them. Oh my friends, of all the sins of which we have to repent in this time of Lent, none ought to give us more solemn and bitter thoughts of shame than the way in which we overlook the teaching of God's Spirit, and shut our eyes to His light, times without number, every day of our lives. My friends, if our hearts were what they ought to be, if we had humble, loving, trustful hearts, full of faith and hope in God's promise to lead us into all truth, I believe that every joy and every sorrow which befell us, every book which we opened, every walk which we took upon the face of God's earth, ay, every human face into which we looked, would teach us some lesson, whereby we should be wiser, better, more aware of where we are and what God requires of us as human beings, neighbours, citizens, subjects, members of His church. All things would be clear to us; for we should see them in the light of God's Spirit. All things would look bright to us, for we should see them in the light of God's love. All things would work together for good to us, for we should understand each thing as it came before us, and know what it was, and what God meant it for, and how we were to use it. And knowing and seeing what was right, we should see how beautiful it was, and love it, and take delight in doing it, and so we should walk in the light. Dark thoughts would pass away from our minds, dark feelings from our hearts, dark looks from our faces. We should look our neighbours cheerfully and boldly in the face; for our consciences would be clear of any ill-will or meanness toward them. We should look cheerfully and boldly up to God our Father; for we should know that He was with us, guiding and teaching us, well- pleased with all our endeavours to see things as He sees them, and to live and work on earth after His image, and in His likeness. We should look out cheerfully and boldly on the world around us, trying to get knowledge from everything we see, expecting the light, and welcoming it, and trusting it, because we know that it comes from Him who is true and cannot lie, Him who is love and cannot injure, Him who is righteous and cannot lead us into temptation: Jesus Christ, the Light who lighteth every man that cometh into the world.

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